Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blog 2: Frankenstein and The Movies

    As is often the case, movie adaptations of classic literature can often be anything but faithful representations of the novels that form the basis of the plot. Ask anyone who has not read the Mary Shelley original what Frankenstein's monster looks like and the response is almost invariably the stuff of cheesy Halloween costumes: square, flat head, green complexion, and neck bolts. Filmmakers often feel the need to infuse their own creativity into a project and this infusion often leads to a less than accurate depiction of the story. In some cases, the additions and visual effects can make the story more profound and in others, it can thin the complexity of it. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of watching the 1994 Kenneth Branagh film "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" which is one of the more faithful films. Even so, it still has glaring differences from the 19th century novel. I could write volumes concerning the differences, good and bad, between the novel and the film, but I find the difference in the character of Professor Waldman to be the most profound.
     First of all, Waldman's appearance differs greatly from what is described in the novel. Shelley presents to us a distinguished man in his 50s with black hair touched by gray, with excellent posture, a look of benevolence and "his voice the sweetest I have ever heard" (41). In the movie, we are presented with a somewhat wild looking man with long gray-white hair and a somewhat gruff voice. I find this difference to be significant because of Victor's nature. It is made very clear that Victor does not take to Professor Krempe because of his appearance and voice. I doubt that the Victor of the novel would have taken such a keen interest in the teachings of the professor portrayed in the film after his write off of the "little squat man (Krempe), with a gruff voice and repulsive countenance" (40).
    The ambitions and professions of several of the main characters change in this film. In the novel, Victor is sent to school in Ingolstadt for nothing more explicit than to "be made acquainted with other customs than those of [his] native country" (35). In the film, however, Victor is going to Ingolstadt to become a doctor just like his father. Consequently, Waldman is no longer just a professor of Chemistry, but a medical doctor involved in his own research and even in the preservation of the health of the town. This takes some of the mystery and intrigue away from Victor's character. Instead of learning to apply his education on his own, we see him, instead, learning how to dissect cadavers under the skilled tutelage of Professor Waldman. Instead of a vision of Victor alone in his apartment contriving of the means to create life through the use of dead tissue and some arcane "spark" of life, we have a student trying to complete the last step in a research process his teacher just didn't have the hardihood of nature to complete. Waldman is almost a Frankenstein-lite in his portrayal. In the film, Victor is introduced to the idea of electric current in the reanimation process by the professor and even shown that it works through the reanimated arm of some primate creature. The professor is also shown to aid Victor in the formation of his theories. This thinning of Victor's great intelligence and creativity also served to thin Victor's character as a whole.
    The motivation for the creation or restoration of life is described to us in the novel as being a mix of wanting to feel what it is to be a creator and the renewal of life where it has departed. "No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. Persuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in the process of time... renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (49). The arrogance and grandiose plans of creating a race of beings is completely left out of the film. After his mother dies in child birth, not from Scarlet fever, Victor chooses to devote his study at medical school to preventing another of his loved ones from ever dying and finds, as I have already described, a mentor in Professor Waldman. However, the director decided to use the expanded role of the professor in another way as well: as another catalyst in Victor's passion. While attempting to prevent an outbreak of Cholera in Ingolstadt, the professor is stabbed by a vagrant, who doesn't want anything to do with the doctor's needles, and dies while Victor tries in vain to save his life. This episode leads Victor to attack his work with even more ardency than before. The loss of the god-complex in his endeavors made Victor far less intriguing to me.
    Finally, but probably most astounding, even in death Waldman's presence continues. Victor, in his quest to procure "materials" for his work, robs Waldman's grave and uses his brain for the creation. This is absolutely astounding. I do not doubt that Victor desired to give the creature the best brain he could find. It was described in the novel how he picked what he thought would be the very best skin, muscles, and hair. However, there was never a personal connection with any of the parts Victor used. Although a personal connection to the monster beyond its creation may seem to make the plot of the movie more complex or to further the expression of Victor's mad passion, this move does not seem to fit Victor's character as someone detached from the reality and consequences of what he is doing and what is happening around him. In fact, as a teaser for the film, the director seemed to put a conscious effort into eliminating the detached passivity of Victor's character.
    This is only one short example of the differences between the 1994 film and the 19th century novel. I found the film to be good on its own but I could not help noticing the differences. Some of them served to bring the story to life, while others thinned the characters (such as Waldman's thinning of Victor) and the plot.


Carl Santavicca said...

Adam, I like how you singled out one specific change and focused on that; especially since I am unfamiliar with that particular movie. I feel like this was a topic that could become cluttered with multiple differences and not cover any specific one in depth enough. That being said i thought your introduction seemed a little vague and you probably could have gone into a little more depth as to what each difference in Waldman and Victors relationship meant especially related to how Victor views death, and the death of those close to him in the book itself. Overall it is a good start especially since the movie seemed to show a lot more interest in a character, however important to Victor's development, I simply glossed over while reading.

Adam said...

The introduction is a little long for an essay of this length - very generic. The focus on Waldeman seems fine.

Good initial discussion of W.'s appearance - would you go so far as to say that characteristics of W. are being fused with those of Krempe? Your discussion of Waldeman as a mini-Frankenstein seems good but abbreviated. The role of medical science in the movie is good (doesn't the actual practice of medicine play an important role, too?), but there isn't as much continuity as there could be between your discussion of Waldeman and your discussion of medicine as such.

You get better as you go - good work on the "thinning" of Victor's god-complex, for instance, the loss of his detachment & megalomania, etc. What's missing here (not disaster for a draft, but it would be vital for a revision) is an attempt to articulate what it means for the film as a whole that this change is made. What does it mean that both the genius and the otherness of Victor are reduced? Does it, for instance (strictly an example) say something about how we view science in our time, vs. how it was understood in Shelley's time?

Adam Lewis said...

Thank you both for your comments. That introduction seemed to grow as I added material to the rest of the blog, but I guess it is a bit vague. I read some reviews of the other films on the list and I shudder to think how far off of the novel they are because this one was hailed as the most true to the book and it would be easy to write pages and pages on the other differences in addition to Waldman. I will say one other thing though, long live De Nirostein!